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Banjo and 'chanterelle'

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McGrath of Harlow 24 Sep 04 - 07:19 AM
Steve Parkes 24 Sep 04 - 07:52 AM
Steve Parkes 24 Sep 04 - 07:57 AM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Sep 04 - 02:06 PM
John MacKenzie 24 Sep 04 - 02:43 PM
Burke 24 Sep 04 - 02:54 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Sep 04 - 03:48 PM
Uncle_DaveO 24 Sep 04 - 04:06 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Sep 04 - 04:15 PM
Uncle_DaveO 24 Sep 04 - 06:01 PM
Kaleea 24 Sep 04 - 09:42 PM
Uncle_DaveO 24 Sep 04 - 10:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 25 Sep 04 - 12:42 PM
Steve Parkes 27 Sep 04 - 04:28 AM
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Subject: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 07:19 AM

In the "Oxford Companion to Music", originally published in 1938, but many editions since then, there's a short article about the banjo which intrigued me when I came across it recently.

"One of {the strings} is played by the thumb, as a melody string (thumb string or chanterelle), the others providing simple accompaniment chords."

Now that doesn't sound like any way of playing the banjo which I have come across - but it does correspond with one way of playing the mountain dulcimer. So I'm wondering if this is just a misunderstanding by the person writing the article, or of it does actually refer to some way that the banjo has been played.


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 07:52 AM

1938? Sounds like they were getting their obscure instruments mixed up, Kevin. The banjo enjoyed great popularity in the UK around the end of the 19th century, but it had fizzled out well before 1938. It may be that the writer (or contributor, perhaps) had simply got his description at second-hand and misunderstood the mechanics. Google turned up this delightful and rather more accurate account


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 07:57 AM

Oh b*gger! I'll try that again and see igf I can click the right button ...

1938? Sounds like they were getting their obscure instruments mixed up, Kevin. The banjo enjoyed great popularity in the UK around the end of the 19th century, but it had fizzled out well before 1938. It may be that the writer (or contributor, perhaps) had simply got his description at second-hand and misunderstood the mechanics. Google turned up this delightful and rather more accurate account from 1911 for chanterelle "thumb string". Does your OCM say anything about "five, six or nine strings", Kevin?

Steve


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 02:06 PM

The Oxford Companion gives it as "from four to nine strings (usually five or six)".

"Chanterelle" is, I gather, the general term for teh highest sounding string in other instruments too, such as the violin.

It could be that the OCM got it's info from that 1911 encyclopedia - but the fact that both refer to the fifth string as "the melody string" set me wondering whether in fact it might sometimes have been used that way, with the rest of the strings in an open D, while playing the tune on the fifth. Sort of reverse to the way it's normally done.


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 02:43 PM

I often pick chanterelles, but I fry them rather than play them.
Giok


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Burke
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 02:54 PM

That 1911 article seems a bit confused. First it describes the 5th strig as: "highest in pitch, known as the chanterelle, melody or thumb string." Later it says "The chanterelle does not lie over the finger-board and is always played open by the thumb."

Can't play it open & as a melody both. Usage of the term other places in the encyclopedia seem to clearly connect chanterelle with melody more than highest.

Curiouser & curiouser!


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 03:48 PM

With a zither banjo - which were quite common in Engand anyway - the fifth string lies over the fretboard, so it'd be easy enough to play a melody on it. And I think you could do the same with a fretless banjo.

Perhaps it's a misunderstanding - but the fact that the string is referred to as a "melody" string in both books is odd. The OCM could well have drawn on the earlier source - but in 1911, the date for that encyclopedia article, banjoes were still fairly common instruments.


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 04:06 PM

A melody could, I suppose, be played on an open thumbstring, but I think it would be a very boring melody indeed.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 04:15 PM

Doesn't a melody by definition have to have more than one note?


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 06:01 PM

That's why it would be boring.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Kaleea
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 09:42 PM

Could it be referring to "Frailing"? When the Banjo player in our String band does ol time "Frailin'!" he uses his thumb to plunk the melody (usually on that half-way-up-5th string, & curls the other fingers under quite considerably to plunk them betwixt & around & about the melody notes, making a nice accompaniment.


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 24 Sep 04 - 10:11 PM

Kaleea, seriously it would be very difficult to play melody on the thumbrstring or chanterelle, frailing or up-picking, either one. While you can fret the thumbstring with your thumb here or there, it would be very clumsy indeed to try to do that to create a melody.

Now, just watch somebody come along and say that "So-and-so does it!"   But I sure don't know of anyone who does, or even could.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Sep 04 - 12:42 PM

Boring or not, with just one note it wouldn't count as a melody.

Why on earth would anyone feel obliged to fret the strig with a thumb when they'd have four other fingers to use? Plucking with the thumb, now that's different.

No reason it wouldn't be easy enough to play tunes fretting the fifth, provided it was a banjo where there were frets under the fifth. It might sound good on some tunes too, using the fingers to fret the fifth string and plucking with the thumb, while frailing the same open chord on the other strings. Dukcimers get played that way sometimes.

The question is, did anyone ever play the banjo that way in the old days, as those reference books rather suggest, by calling the fifth string "the melody string".


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Subject: RE: Banjo and 'chanterelle'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 27 Sep 04 - 04:28 AM

How about "several notes, all at the same pitch"? But even the so-called One-note Samba has two notes.

I'd love to hear a duckimer! Sounds like it would make a good trio with a serpent and a bass ...

Steve


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